Our Six Heroes — 10 Years Later


The tenth commemoration of the 9/11 attacks brings with it the likelihood that future commemorations of that tragic day will be far less public, consigned mostly to the memorials and museums now nearing completion at Ground Zero and elsewhere. The first, the fifth — the tenth — observances of any tragedy are both milestones and thresholds. Milestones along the path to recovery and renewal. Thresholds between the here and now — and history.

It was that way with the Civil War. Pearl Harbor. V-E Day. V-J Day. The end of hostilities in Korea, and Vietnam. The Kennedy & King assassinations. Someday soon, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And 9/11.

As broadcasters, it’s our job to reflect and to report when each new milestone is reached, each new threshold crossed. Mourn? That we must do in our fleeting private moments.

And I’d like to take such a moment now to reprise a blog entry I first posted last year in remembrance of our industry’s own six 9/11 heroes–the six broadcast engineers who were working, and who died, atop the World Trade Center on that fateful day. Doing what they loved to do best.

My former WABC-TV colleague, Don DiFranco. The consummate perfectionist who reveled in telling vendors how to build a better transmitter. When the attack began, Don called the station from the 110th floor transmission room at 1 World Trade Center to warn there was a problem. The phone call was his first — and his last.

WNBC’s Bill Steckman usually worked the night shift, so he could spend more time with his family during the day. But on 9/11, some new equipment was scheduled for installation, and Bill always liked being around when new technology arrived. When the first plane struck 1 WTC. Bill called his station to tell them he was powering down — and getting out. He never made it.

WPIX’s Steve Jacobson was, like me, an avid amateur radio operator in his spare time. He loved the science of RF, loved the Channel 11 transmitter as if it were human. Once used his shoelaces to help revive it when it suddenly went off the air.

WCBS was twice cursed — losing two of its engineers in the attacks. One, Isaias Rivera, had survived the 1993 bombing at the WTC; Bob Pattison had a fondness for the Sunday crosswords, and had just recently held his then-two-week-old niece for the first time.

And WNET’s Rod Coppola? His love of music prompted the New York Times to call him “The Rock and Roll Grandpa.” Like so many of us, he built his first radio station before he was a teenager.

All smart men. Talented men. Men well respected, and devoted to their craft, their colleagues, their families and communities.  And day in and day out, they worked where few of us likely would want to work. High above the earth, amid rooms filled with high-voltage equipment. Underneath large amounts of radiation. They were men in love with the magic and mystery that is television.

They were cut down in the prime of life. But I suspect that if we could ask them how each would like to be remembered, they’d tell us to pursue excellence, be passionate about our profession, take time to smell life’s roses — and apply the lessons of that terrible day to remain vigilant. To always prepare for the unthinkable.

I hope you’ll take a moment to learn more about each of these men by logging onto the links below. And learn more about how the New York radio and television community rebounded from the loss of the WTC transmitter site by listening to the Audio Engineering Society podcast of a presentation in which I participated two years after the attacks. That link, too, follows below.

Don, Steve, Bill, Isaias, Bob, Rod — ten years later, the legacies of your lives still send powerful signals to all who knew and loved you. Signals that will never fade.


–Howard B. Price, CBCP, MBCI
Dir., Business Continuity & Crisis Management
ABC News   [email protected]